Asian market provides authentic experience
If you ask Randy Stroup and Tess Neidig what they love most about operating R & T Asian Market, they will tell you it is the pride they feel about providing something to the community that is not available anywhere else.
Stroup and Neidig opened the market at 314 Government Place, Williamsport, in April 2019 after many years of consideration by Neidig.
While still living in the Philippines, Neidig ran a store for her aunt who traveled frequently, so she knew the ins and outs of retail. She immigrated to the United States in 1994 and decided to attend college in order to get a better job. Prior to opening the market she spent 10 years working for West Pharmaceuticals in Jersey Shore.
“A store was always on my mind,” noted Neidig.
The pair did some research and realized there was a large Asian population in the area that was under-served in terms of authentic food and groceries.
That need, combined with Neidig’s retail background and Stroup’s ease with numbers, led them to take a leap of faith last year and make their dream a reality.
They started small, the shelves only about half full at first. But as the customers came, Stroup and Neidig asked what products they wanted to see and began basing future orders on that.
Today, the shelves are stocked floor to ceiling with authentic noodles, spices, snacks and condiments. Many large freezers stock seafood products, fish, marinated meats and tropical frozen treats.
“We were not experienced entrepreneurs,” said Neidig. “We learned through customer feedback.”
Every two weeks, Stroup and Neidig load up the back of their minivan with two chest freezers, powered by a marine battery, and travel to Brooklyn, Manhattan’s Chinatown and Jersey City, NJ to get their products, 90 percent of which are imported from Asia.
Their customer base is far-reaching, from local families and international college students to customers from the Harrisburg area and the northern tier.
“There are people that drive at least an hour or more to get our selection,” said Stroup.
Stroup and Neidig have products that other area stores do not carry, like a certain kind of noodles that are very popular. They say their authentic products have a stronger, deeper flavor profile than those available in a traditional grocery store and it is that authenticity their customers crave.
Their best selling products include the dry and fresh noodles and their fish — of which they have many varieties — including milk fish, pompano fish and silver fish. In summer, their tropical ice cream and tropical slushies are a big hit.
In addition to their extensive product line, Stroup and Neidig also pride themselves on customer service. If a customer wants a particular product they do not carry, they will do their best to get it within two weeks. They also help customers ship care packages to family back in the Philippines. They have even been known to open the store during off hours to accommodate customers.
Stroup and Neidig hope to expand the market as they are already outgrowing their current space. Ultimately, they would like to have a storefront with a commercial kitchen and cafe space and also offer catering. While they are not quite there yet, it is never far from Neidig’s mind. She would love to be able to offer the community authentic Asian cuisine from the very products they stock in their store.
“I really think Williamsport has the potential to be a foodie town,” added Stroup. “The people are welcoming and open-minded and, for a rural area there, is a thirst to have more culture.”
For now, Stroup and Neidig are happy that their customers do not have to drive hours for authentic Asian products.
While their business has been well received this past year and the community support overwhelmingly positive, Stroup and Neidig acknowledge that running a small business can be stressful at times.
“There is a very small margin for error,” said Stroup.
He and Neidig agree that the key to running a business with your significant other is about teamwork and communication.
Stroup adds that shopping local and shopping small has a positive effect on the community.
“You get a good product at a good price and the long term success of a community as a whole is based on the success of small businesses,” said Stroup.
Stroup and Neidig hope their store will help attract more ethnically diverse people to the Williamsport area, noting people will settle down where they have services to meet their needs. “I believe the more diverse a community is, the more healthy and vibrant it is,” said Stroup.
Stroup and Neidig know they could not have been successful without the support of the community and are grateful. They encourage people who have never been to their store to come see what they have to offer and to learn about other cultures and foods and to appreciate things from around the world and not just what they grew up with.
“Come for the products,” says Stroup. “But come back for the personal customer service we give you.”
R & T Asian Market can be reached at 570-497-0834 or via its Facebook page, R & T Asian Market of Williamsport.